the body is the teacher

musings on the wisdom of incarnation

The Body Is the Teacher

The body is the teacher.

I am the student.

The mind is the space where the teacher and the student meet.

You are not the body. You are not the mind. Mind is just empty space. It is like a large room. It can seem spacious, calm, and open; or it may seem tight, confined, and cluttered. We can fill up all the space of the mind, or we can declutter and open it up. But whether filled or unfilled, it is just space. We like to think of the mind as a mechanism of control, as a center and originating point of action. But if we look deeply we see that it is just empty space.

We think we know the body. We think we can comprehend it. We think that we can lay hold of it, own it. Typically, we start out believing that we are the body. We may make no distinction between I/me and the body. Or we consider the body to be our servant or slave, or like a dumb animal that we simply control and use as we see fit.

Of course, these are ways that we can relate with the body. The body allows us to ignore it, neglect it, and abuse it. But there is another way we can relate with the body. We can see the body as a kind, wise, and patient teacher. We can cultivate an attitude of reverence, gratitude, and devotion toward the body. Continue reading “The Body Is the Teacher”

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How We Run Away from Enlightenment

At our core, there is a nascent insight about our true nature: that we are small, open, and vulnerable, that we have no way to protect ourselves, to avoid what harms us or to hold on to what we love. We begin with knowledge, not with ignorance. And that knowledge is relational, not individual or isolated. That knowledge is given to us. And yet we reject it – or at least we try to. Although this insight often manifests as a feeling, it begins as a perception, an accurate perception of reality. But it is typically the last accurate perception we ever have. Immediately we seek to avoid this perception through an ever-expanding series of delusions and projections. We ordinarily expend a tremendous amount of effort trying to avoid facing this insight. Through construction and perpetuation of ego, we turn this insight into confusion and cling to an ever-widening sphere of ignorance. We run away from wonder and love and in their place seek confirmation and comfort. We run away from enlightenment, from nirvana, from God within us.

IMG_4238But these substitutes for awakened heart can never satisfy us. And when we look deeply we can see back to the original insight. We can recognize our attempts to avoid this perception of ourselves as small, open, and vulnerable as ground zero of all our suffering. We may seek to run away from awareness, but we cannot, because the flame of its lamp is always burning within our hearts. We can recognize that core feeling of humility, of awakened heart, as the gateway to enlightenment, to nirvana, to the kingdom of God. We can train ourselves to stop trying to run away from this wondrous and loving reality. We train ourselves to stay. To rest. To let go of any attempt to cover up our hearts but instead to open them still wider and keep them always open. That is the path of liberation.

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A Plea to the Daughters of Earth

Please rise up, daughters of earth, daughters of our sacred Mother,
rise up and speak to us, for we need to hear your voices.

Continue reading “A Plea to the Daughters of Earth”


The apparent discontinuity between mind and body arises from a misunderstanding. But that is not a problem. Understanding always arises from misunderstanding.

The body is in the process of becoming mind, without ceasing to include the body. For there can be no mind without the body. The body must be included. So perhaps one should think of what is becoming as bodymind.

In the metaphorical language of the mystics, this is the process of man becoming god, while yet remaining man. The traditional religions, however, prefer to keep this process at arm’s length by conceiving it in reverse: God becomes man, while remaining fully God. The direction of the image doesn’t really matter. Either way, the truth that is being revealed is incarnation.

Confusion Is Aggression

Fear, anger, resentment, anxiety, hatred, jealousy, and despair all arise from confusion. They arise because deep within us we are asking “What is going on?” and we are not satisfied with not having an answer to that question. The body is already one step ahead of us, acting as if it knows the answer (or at least understands the question) and we don’t. Our mind is lagging behind. That gap between mind and body is the space that we fill with these various forms of aggression. Actually, the confusion itself is aggression: aggression against wonder. Wonder is accepting that we don’t know what is going on, that what is going on exceeds our expectations, our concepts, our words. Wonder speaks when we are speechless, when we are open, when we listen. Then, from this wonder, arises love, compassion, joy, and wisdom.

Face Death Now

We cannot truly live until we face death. We already tacitly acknowledge that death will require us to let go of everything – everything and everyone that we love, everything and everyone that we hate, and all the nameless people and things that we don’t even care enough about to notice. The Lojong wisdom traditions of Tibet, contained in the Seven Points of Mind Training texts, tell us that we don’t have to wait till death to let all these go. They also remind us that letting these attachments go now, every day and every moment, is not only the best way to die but also the best way to live. We can live in complete freedom right now. We just have to let go of everything. We just have to let our selves die. Ego finds that a scary prospect, but we know better. We know that this is the path toward the only true life of freedom and joy. Continue reading “Face Death Now”

Taking the Armor Off.

One of the very first steps in changing ourselves is studying our habits and letting go of the ones that no longer serve us. Easier said than done. This quote from Pema Chodron says it all: “…

Source: Taking the Armor Off.

“No Birth, No Death”

When reading Buddhist writings, you may come across this notion of “no birth, no death.” When you first encounter this, you may be shocked and incredulous. You’re supposed to be. That’s the whole idea: to invite you to question the beliefs and assumptions that are so obvious and apparent to you that you would never think to doubt them.

Nirvana means “extinction,” as in the extinction of a candle’s flame. First and foremost, nirvana means extinction of all concepts and notions. Our concepts about things prevents us from really touching the reality of the present moment. 

Negating concepts like “birth” and “death” can be good medicine for us sometimes, as it may help us loosen our grip on those concepts. But “no birth and death” can also easily become simply a new concept that we grab hold of. Although dogmas arise in response to questions, they may be an expression of a desire to eliminate those questions. Questions spring from wonder, which is the experience of the inadequacy of all concepts in the face of the reality of the present moment. It is hard for us to dwell in the emptiness of that place of questioning, in the openness of wonder. But that is the only place we are ever truly alive.

So please feel free to investigate what arises in whatever manner appears best to you. The wonder and openness that we experience in mindfulness leads to questions. Embrace these questions. Sometimes the questions lead to doubts. Embrace these doubts. As the Buddha said, “Right it is to doubt, right it is to question what is doubtful and what is not clear.” We are not called to blind faith. We are invited to inquire, investigate, and form questions arising from our wonder, openness, and curiosity. Buddha did not establish a system of orthodoxy or epistemological authority, but rather a way of practicing that embraces and incorporates open investigation: “As the wise test the purity of gold by burning, cutting, and examining it, so should you accept my words after examining them and not out of regard and reverence for me.”

The Unreality of “Things”

What we can perceive – and therefore know – is limited to objects of consciousness. In the Buddhist teachings, every phenomenon that we can experience is either physical/material or mental. Every object of consciousness is one or the other or these two categories. Physical or material phenomena are rupa; mental phenomena are nama. Everything that we perceive is either rupa or nama. What we ordinarily experience as reality is the interplay of rupa and nama, coming and going, arising and then fading away. They are nonpermanent, effervescent, like the bubbles on the surface of a glass of soda. There is no persisting entity residing at the center of this play of phenomena, no abiding self. There is just consciousness of rupa and nama. On the basis of these two our egoic mind may contrive various illusions and imagined entities as convenient organizing principles – things such as “self,” “other,” “tree,” “rock,” and so forth. But reality is actually simply the continual arising and passing away of material and mental phenomena.

For example, what we experience as a body is a collection of rupas that are constantly arising and falling away very rapidly. The cells that make up this body are constantly changing, being born and dying, and being replaced by new ones in a process of endless replication. And at the subatomic level we know that this apparently solid body is actually mostly empty space, a temporary and fortuitous phase or field of essentially unpredictable energy and motion. The body is an effervescent foaming up and dissolving of rupas. Nothing in it abides. Nothing in it is lasting. It is constantly being born and dying. The idea of the body as an abiding thing is an illusion. It only exists in the appearance of its temporary effervescence in this present moment. Mind creates and maintains this illusion of abiding through persistent projection, through a continual rapid-firing of namas, through the constant churning out of thoughts, ideas, concepts, and assumptions. The “body” continues as long as there are conditions to permit it to arise. But those conditions can be taken away at any time. When those conditions are gone, then the “body” “dies.” The conditions for the appearance of the “body” as “alive” are no longer present, and the conditions for the appearance of the “body” as “dead” arise instead. Eventually the conditions supporting even the appearance of anything resembling a “body” fall away and there is only the material descendants of the “body” to be absorbed into the larger body of the earth, wind, water, and energy that makes up life. Continue reading “The Unreality of “Things””

Slogans for Mindful Parenting

One of the most profound guides to spiritual practice that I have encountered is the set of lojong (“mind training”) slogans that have been practiced in Tibetan buddhism for centuries. The following is a set of slogans inspired by lojong.

1. Drive all blames into one.

Do not blame anyone else for anything. This includes your children. It especially includes them. Recognize that if you are feeling irritated or angry, at the heart of this is an aversion to feeling blamed and the desire to avoid that feeling. At the core, you simply do not want to feel small, weak, confused, ashamed, and helpless. You do not want to feel open and vulnerable. You are recoiling against humility. But that is the heart of enlightenment. That is bodhichitta. That is the goal, and you are actively trying to run away from it. So stop. Look for the trapdoor of humility. Open yourself to the blame. To all of the blame. Cultivate a completely open heart.

2. Be present. Continue reading “Slogans for Mindful Parenting”

Incarnation Is the Only Wisdom

During the early stages of spiritual development, it is easy to see truth as residing in some remote realm curated and presided over by an elite priesthood of scholars and figureheads. We are invited to discount our own experience of life in favor of traditional expressions of official doctrine expounded and defended by credentialed experts. We come to see the most profound truths as something distant, external, other.

But eventually, if we are to fully realize our divine nature, we must recognize that true wisdom dwells within each of us already. It turns out that the basic package that we have each been given — this marvelous body — is all we need. Indeed, it is our only means for identifying and participating in ultimate truth. This is the profound wisdom of incarnation.

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